How To Stretch Using the Myofascial Release Technique

Woman getting a massage

Myofascial release is a specialized stretching technique used to release tension and realign the body. The word myofascia is derived from the Latin word “myo,” meaning muscle, and “fascia,” for band. Fascia is tough connective tissue that spreads throughout the body in a three dimensional web, from the head to the toes. Fascia surrounds every muscle, bone, nerve and organ in the body.

1. How tissues becomes tight  Poor posture, physical injuries, and various illnesses can throw the body out of alignment and cause the intricate web of the body's fascia to become restricted. When muscle fibers are injured, the fascia that surrounds muscles becomes short and tight. This uneven amount of pressure on the fascia can bind the fascia to underlying tissues causing adhesions or scar tissue. Over time, these adhesions can limit the range of motion within a joint and cause pain and numbness throughout the body.

2. How to free constrictions in tissue  The gentle stretching used in myofascial release can break up scar tissue by softening, lengthening and realigning the fascia. Freeing constrictions in the tissue will ultimately restore balance to the body by relieving pain and improving blood circulation in the body. Myofascial release therapy can be beneficial for individuals suffering from back pain, fibromyalgia, frozen shoulder, rheumatoid arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches and whiplash injuries.

3. Myofascial Therapy  Traditionally, physical therapists and chiropractors used myofascial therapy to treat their clients. Recently, personal trainers have incorporated these soft tissue releasing exercises into clients' routines by utilizing the following fitness accessories: Poz-A-Balls, Fitball Therapy Balls, Foam Rollers, and ShiatsuBags.

4. Poz-A-Balls  Poz-A-Balls are available in two sizes, eight-inch (beginner) and four-inch (advanced). These small inflatable stability balls weigh one pound each and are ideal in facilitating and enhancing Pilates and yoga poses. Personal trainers utilize these balls to introduce the myofascial release techniques to their clients. These balls are soft and pliable and can generally be used safely when used directly on the spine. To experience tissue release using Poz-A-Balls:

  • Lie on your back on the floor with knees bent.
  • Lift up your hips and place the Poz-A-Ball in the small of the back.
  • Slowly lower your hips toward the ground, allowing the weight of your body to round over the ball.
  • Stay in this position for a minute, allowing the lower back muscles to stretch over the ball.
  • Next, move your body over the ball seeking areas where your back is tight.
  • Once you locate where your muscles are tight or possibly sore, slowly shift your body weight over the ball making short, stroking motions over the tight tissue.
  • Continue to shift body weight over the ball for approximately 2 minutes.
  • After two minutes, lift hips up and remove the ball from your back. The lower back muscles should feel light and less tight.

Note: You may also want to place the ball under the butt muscles and perform the same steps above.

5. Fitball Therapy Ballsare much harder than the Poz-A-Balls and are used for performing myofascial release in a targeted area. There are three balls in the Fitball Therapy line: five, six, and seven inches. A variety of ball sizes allow the user to customize the pressure and intensity needed to experience soft tissue release. A seven-inch ball is generally recommended for a beginner and those seeking a gentler massage, while a five-inch ball is used for a deeper isolated area. To experience tissue release:

  • Lie on your back on the floor with knees bent.
  • Lift up your hips and place the desired Fitball Therapy Ball in the small of your back.
  • Slowly lower your hips toward the ball, allowing the weight of your body to round over the ball.
  • Stay in this position for 30 seconds to a minute, allowing the lower back muscles to stretch over the ball.
  • Next, move your body over the ball seeking areas where your back is tight.
  • After locating tight tissue, slowly shift body weight over the ball making short, stroking motions over the tight tissue.
  • Continue to shift body weight over the ball for approximately one minute.
  • After one minute, lift hips up and remove ball from back. The muscles in the lower back should feel longer and less tight.


6. Foam Rollers
are cylindrical pieces of hard foam, usually three feet in length and available in various densities from relatively soft to hard. Foam rollers release tension and improve mobility in the body by using an individual’s body weight to apply pressure to sore spots. Foam rollers work well releasing tissue in the leg muscles. To experience tissue release using foam rollers:

  • Sit upright on the roller with your arms behind the roller and legs straight out in front of the body. Slowly shift body weight forward and backward while moving the roller up and down the back of the legs.
  • Another way to use the roller is to kneel on the roller with your arms in front of your body. Slowly push legs backward and in the process the roller will move up your front thighs. Repeat sequence.

7. ShiatsuBagsare flexible bags that are filled with 15 Eva balls. Ten of the Eva balls are 3.5 inches in diameter and are fairly firm, and five of the balls are slightly larger and are softer. The balls in the ShiatsuBag can release tightness and tension in just about any muscle group in the body. The ShiatsuBag works by the user positioning the bag under tight muscles. The user then gently applies a portion of their body weight to the bag, which causes the balls to surround the tight muscles and apply direct pressure on sore muscles. One nice feature of the ShiatsuBag is that the user can customize the pressure of the soft tissue release or massage by using a different number of Eva balls and selecting between the softer or harder Eva balls. To experience myofascial release with the ShiatsuBag:

  • Select the firmness and number of the Eva balls desired and place in cloth bag; then secure bag with tie.
  • Place ShiatsuBag under a tight area of the body such as the gluteal or butt muscles. Sitting upright with knees bent gently use your body weight to roll over the balls in the bag.
  • Another popular way to use the ShiatsuBag is to lie on your side with your arm extended over your head. Place the bag under the extended arm.  Gently move the body up and down over the bag while lying on your side. This stretching technique releases the tight muscles near the shoulder blade, such as the rhomboids. 

Coaches, athletes and personal trainers use foam roller exercises as a warm-up to increase elasticity in the muscles. Increasing elasticity in the muscles improves flexibility, which reduces the chances of muscle pulls, strains, and tears. In addition, rollers are used after workouts to release stress and assist in decreasing muscular soreness. Foam rollers are referred to as the poor man’s massage therapist, since it is like receiving a massage without the expense. At approximately $35.00 each, foam rollers are an excellent value.

To perform myofascial release exercises safely, you must use fitness accessories designed specifically for releasing tissue pain. Do not use tennis or soft balls.

Whether you are a professional athlete rehabbing an injury or you are a regular gym rat at your club, you, too, may benefit from performing myofascial release exercises.

 

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